The Shallows: Film Review
Cast: Blake Lively, A shark, A seagull, the ocean
Director: Jaume Collet Serra
Ever since Jaws terrified the world, there's always been an inherent and undeniable phobia of open water and sharks.
And cinema's been trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle effect again - in some forms of success, with the likes of the darkness of Open Water to the ongoing schlockiness of the Sharknado series.
So the latest contender is a trim 85 minute thriller starring former Gossip Girl star Blake Lively as Nancy, a former med student who's dealing with the death of her mother and dropping out of college by way of coping. Heading to a hidden beach in Mexico that her mother surfed at the day she found out she was pregnant, Nancy's determined to catch some waves and reconnect spiritually to her.
But when a shark attacks, her journey soon shifts away from the spiritual to a desperate fight to ensure she survives the night stranded on a reef, and can work out what to do when high tide comes in....
The Shallows largely dramatically paints itself into a corner.
However, for the most part of the film, Collet-Serra (known for Liam Neeson thrillers Unknown and Non-Stop) and Lively manage to convince of the isolation and creeping fear.
It helps that Collet-Serra's cinematographer, Flavio Labiano has done an excellent job, with some truly stunningly lit underwater sequences (a jellyfish minefield stands out) and sweeping shots of the beauty of the beach around Nancy. In parts, The Shallows feels like a surfer's piece of wave porn then mixed with the National Geographic shark porn elements as the CGI beast circles around. With others caught in the shark's sights, the blues and azures turn into a blood-soaked red water that fill the screen; an early shadowy shot of the shark in a wave tube that's being surfed - visually, it's hard to fault the work this film does.
Some directorial flourishes mark out the film's B-movie pretensions and there are one too many shots of Lively's svelte figure slipping into a wet suit or through the waves to hang 10, but in its early stages, The Shallows largely achieves what it's aspiring to do.
It helps that Lively's subtle facials and the short running time sell the basic concept of survival, even if the narrative conveniences threaten to put all out to sea (a med student who's seriously injured just being one of the more obvious and helpful when she's chomped on and needs to use her own jewellery as a sewing kit). Her bonding with an injured seagull on the coral is as much akin to Wilson in Castaway as you're likely to get and could be someone else if you're looking deep into this, but not once when in the water, does Lively lose sight of what makes Nancy human and fallible in this battle against nature.
An over-reliance on clunky exposition at the start, via a clever use of smartphones on screen or Nancy's American tourist babbling to her definitely-not-interested guide seem to be trying to inject some character that's not really there, weird time jumps and a terribly pointless saccharine coda are just a couple of the problems of The Shallows.
Ultimately though, the film lapses into silliness and growing ludicrous touches which is what a schlockbuster audience want but which betrays what the film has spent a lot of time aspiring to, with its more spiritual edges and its fight for resilience and survival giving some of the suspense early on.
Losing sight of the fact that shark films work best when they're hardly seen, Collet-Serra's conclusion to the film is dangerously silly and works against it.
In the final wash, The Shallows has parts that betray its own title, but an insistence on going for the hoorah shark porn moments on the screen sink the film back into more than adequate B-movie territory and ultimately leave you feeling you've been treading cinematic water.